Vending Machines with Pretzels, Cookies and Some Healthier Nibbles, Too
How buying a vending company fills up Bill Graham’s life these days.
Like many parents, Bill Graham—the father of two active and always-hungry teenage sons—has stepped up to the plate on the crusade against junk food, given national campaigns against rising illnesses like diabetes.
And moreover, Graham can fuel healthy-snack options, and does, when selling to his customers—those who he supplies with machines and food from his company, A&M Vending in Cinnaminson.
Lighted slots still dispense the typical assortment of Doritos, M&M’s and Oreo cookies. But for many firms wanting to nurture better eating habits, Graham dedicates two rows in the vending machines for healthier foods like Natural Wayz soups, Foods Should Taste Good multi-grain chips and low-carb fruit juices.
Graham sits at the helm of an establishment that provides snacks to 159 businesses in South Jersey and Philadelphia. His small office is tucked within a nondescript one-story building on Taylors Lane.
His arrival at A&M happened as a result of a dismal economy, corporate slashes and a strong motivation to own his own business one day.
For more than 20 years, Graham worked for Verizon, with most of his career there in the role as a senior support specialist. It was at Verizon where he met his wife, Diane, who still works for the company.
“I gave her a tour on her first day,” says Graham, a friendly, low-key guy. “I then asked her to lunch.”
His education at Burlington County Institute of Technology in automotive and diesel technology gave him the skills to become adept at fixing and overhauling equipment.
“My dad and brother are both riggers. I thought that’s what I was going to do,” Graham says.
At Verizon, he worked closely with technical teams and created design enhancements to Verizon’s websites.
In 2008, Graham's department was phased out and he lost his job.
“It’s not easy when it’s all over like that,” he says.
Throughout the next four years, Graham worked for ICT Group and TD Bank doing development work, similar to what he had been accustomed to at Verizon.
But he says the grit and grind of the corporate world began to disillusion him.
“It was always on the back burner to have my own company. I thought, why not try it now, instead of when I’m 60,” Graham, 52, says.
Embarking on a vending business wasn’t something that at first Graham considered. He admits he didn’t have a lot of experience and didn’t know quite what to expect.
“I looked at about 40 other businesses, a lot of them were retail. But, I didn’t want something that was 24/7,” he says, referring to the long and tedious hours that those in retail sometimes work.
With the help of Murray & Associates in Cherry Hill, a real estate company specializing in the brokerage of privately held companies, Graham bought the 28-year-old vending company in November 2010. It had been owned by the Schaeffer Family in Williamstown for the last 15 years.
The mid-size firm supplies machines and food to fitness centers, law firms, manufacturers, service stations, and schools. Local clients included Carquest Auto Parts, Coca-Cola and Harris Tea Co.
At the end of last year, Graham started looking into the healthy fare niche to offer his clients more options. He says a lot of the effort is trying to come up with foods that will hook vending machine patrons, while offering fair pricing—healthier snacks sometimes are more expensive.
“Some of these items don’t have a long shelf life either, so we also have to be careful about that,” Graham says, regarding foods trimmed of preservatives.
In his first year as owner—and by drawing on his strong computer knowledge—he streamlined his systems, reconfigured his database and reorganized the way invoices are administered. By year’s end, profits grew by 19 percent, according to Graham.
Four employees—with nearly 75 years of cumulative work experience—stayed on and made the transition when Graham took over.
These days, the Cinnaminson resident isn’t looking back.
“Even though I’m on my own,” Graham says. “I’m much more relaxed in my own business.”